Carolyn Hax: Be diplomatic when criticizing boyfriend

June 27, 2013 

Dear Carolyn: My friend Z has been dating a guy, S, for a year. The guy doesn't seem to like our group of friends and shows it by being very sullen and withdrawn when we're all together.

S also won't show a preference for where we go to dinner, what movie we see, etc., but then he's annoyed with whatever the decision is. And when S isn't happy, Z jumps to fix it somehow. They also bicker constantly about very minor things.

Z is the only unmarried one in our group, and I'm worried she's investing a lot into this relationship because she so badly wants to get married and have kids; she seems to think she's out of time and has to make this work, to the point where she has said firmly that she would marry him if he proposed. Is there any way I can approach her with my concerns that won't put her on the defensive? I'm just really worried about how her behavior changes when he's around.

FRIEND

When S expresses annoyance, you respond to him directly.

When you notice clear behavior changes in Z, you respond to her directly: "I worry about how your behavior has changed - you just did (latest clear example here), where I've never known you to do that." Do not, do not attack S directly, since that will only force her to defend him as a roundabout way of defending herself and her choices. You don't want her invested in proving you wrong.

Everything else you mention, you need not to touch with a 10-foot pole. The idea that she's desperate to join your married-people club is an offensive line of reasoning to pursue, one almost guaranteed to put her on the defensive, even if you happen to be right in this case.

There's also hubris to it, because it assumes the paired-off are (a) better off than the un-paired and (b) shall always remain so. It's so much more complicated than that, as you surely already know, so bring that awareness to the conversation with your friend and leave the oversimplified conclusions out of it.

Re: Jerk: I think it's important to state you are not looking for a defense. The friend is an adult and doesn't need to justify anything. You just wanted to point out your concerns.

ANONYMOUS 2

Love this, thanks.

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